Thursday 31 January 2008

The Things Kids Say...

My mother showed me this note written by my nephew some years ago.

"I'll always keep it," she said - and you can see why.

Dear baggy,

Thank you for the fantastic watch it’s the business. I hope you are having a great time in Devon. I hope I can visit you some time.

Your sincerely,

P.S. Sorry I meant lots of love

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Household Tips

The Lady Thinker tagged me for a meme about household tips which has had all my friends howling with laughter. They know that I’m the least houseproud person of all.

The sad truth is, I couldn’t think of any household tips at all.

But I couldn’t admit to that, so I’ve been racking my brains and I’ve come up with this.

Always have a roll of kitchen paper, a newspaper and some Dettol spray.

If you happen to be house training a puppy, which we were a few years ago, the newspaper and spray are essential. Don’t use kitchen paper for this.

Newspaper is vital for lighting fires, of course. You can even read it if you feel the need. Why is it that out of date newspapers are much more interesting than current ones? Like other people’s food. Or baked beans from the tin.

Now you know what a real slut I am.

For spillages – of which there seem to be many in this household, use kitchen paper or newspaper depending on the severity.

As for hoovering? My excuse is that I’m too short sighted to see the dust, let alone hoover it up. But I am blessed with a husband who not only knows what the hoover looks like, but knows how to use it.

Thank God for that.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

A Missed Opportunity

On our way back from Dartmoor on Saturday we stopped in to the supermarket in Totnes and at the next checkout was someone who looked familiar.

Right, I thought, now where do I know her from? She had a certain way of standing, of looking at you with her head slightly to one side but with a steady gaze, and I couldn’t think where I knew her from.

A few minutes later, as I waited in the queue for the loos, I suddenly realised who she was.

My boss’s secretary when we worked at BSB News, 18 years ago. Susan she was called – or was it Sue? And she was living with a Polish fellow – or was he Italian? It wasn’t going too well.

But she was a great secretary. Handled my boss brilliantly. Calm, serene sense of humour, and clear blue/grey eyes that took in every situation and acted, or reacted, accordingly.

I wondered whether I should say hello. Whether she would recognise me. I wondered what she was doing in Totnes when we’d met and worked in London. She was buying quite a lot of food so it didn’t look as if she was staying with friends for the weekend. Single type of stuff she was buying. You know, single yogurts and a packet of ham.

I dithered, for some reason, suddenly back to being the agonisingly shy 6 year old that I was. When I told Av and she said, ‘yes, of course. Go and say hello.’

So I hurried back to the checkout with my heart thumping. My mouth went dry and I wanted to run. What should I say? Was she called Sue or something else?

I rushed round to the checkout – and she was gone.

I felt a rush of relief, fast overtaken by crushing disappointment. If only I’d been braver, she wouldn’t have gone. Now I’ll never know.

Monday 28 January 2008

Dartmoor Daemons

I’m back from the most wonderful weekend walking on Dartmoor and catching up with my dear friend Av. Her husband has just gone off skiing so we had a great opportunity to spend some time together sorting the world out – as you do.

The above picture isn’t exactly where we went but gives you a rough idea of the sheer breathtaking expanse of Dartmoor, where the ground is bouncy with moorland turf, the air is so clear that your lungs sing, and we walked for miles without getting tired.

Dartmoor is on a grand scale, full of surprises. As we walked from Vennford Reservoir towards Sharp Tor, we looked over a ridge and saw a secret valley, full of grey and twisted trees. Far below us, a river rampaged over rocks, diving in and around the sinister foliage. Beyond that was a long low path where a bicyclist pedalled busily, his dog following behind.

We met other dog walkers; elderly fat black labradors, a deaf but still game terrier who came nuzzling up for a cuddle. Lone walkers striding forth with their maps, couples kitted up in walking gear. And us, walking and talking, sharing our thoughts and fears, our dreams and our joys.

The only thing I really missed was my Moll, who would have loved Dartmoor. (It would have been difficult taking her on the train, then bus, then train so I left her here with Himself – it also meant that he had to get out and exercise her.)

But as we walked, Moll was beside me, then running in front, dancing over the bristly turf, diving into the stream and paddling along the muddy paths.

Remember the daemons in The Golden Compass? Moll was definitely there in spirit.

Friday 25 January 2008

Zebedee and Dylan

The next lot of tenants were a lovely couple in their mid twenties who had met at Falmouth art college. She was a talented artist and, like Zebedee, full of ideas, get up and go. He was more Dylan – laid back to the point of falling over – and yes he played the guitar as well.

They were together for several years, but had to hide the fact when her parents came to visit. He was a vicar and very strict on sexual matters.

‘Do you realise,’ said Himself one day. ‘We have underage sex upstairs (the very young lovers), overage sex downstairs (that’s us – he’d just had his 65th birthday) and sex with a vicar’s daughter in the middle flat.’

And there’s no answer to that.

They were both on benefits for a while but she decided she had to do something else (other than painting) to earn money and I saw an ad for a gardener wanted several days a week. She was delighted, went to learn the business with an older fellow and was soon working full time. Not sure the vicar saw that as a suitable occupation for his daughter, either, but perhaps that was why she did it.

All went well – she worked her butt off while he did – well, not very much apart from playing endless scales on the guitar and occasionally giving the odd lesson, but as his standard wasn’t up to much, I can only hope he was a better teacher than player.

Then at about eight o’clock one morning, she arrived on the doorstep in tears. It was all over, she said. She couldn’t live with him any more and had to move out. I’m not sure what caused this sudden departure, but having dispensed tea, sympathy and hugs, she left, in more tears.

He stayed on for a while but couldn’t afford the rent by himself and decided he was going to move out as well. Of course it was almost beyond him to pick up a paper and find somewhere, so I had to physically put the paper in front of him and make him look, then ring up places. Finally he found somewhere, gave me a moving date – and then realised that he and she had to redecorate the place: when they moved in they asked if they could paint the place and we said yes, as long as they painted it back again when they moved out.

Panic. They finished painting the day the before the new tenants were due to arrive, so the paint was still wet. And all her stuff was still in the garage. I had to phone her I don’t know how many times to ask her to collect her stuff before the next lot arrived. As it happened, she finally arrived to collect it literally as the next lot moved in. Her excuse? She had a hangover.

In this instance, we bent over backwards to help both of them and felt decidedly let down by the end of it all. Another lesson – don’t get too involved with tenants. This is a business.

Thursday 24 January 2008

The Nightmare

To continue the tenant saga - our next one was a very confused young man who was an erratic diabetic.

I’d never heard of that, but in practice this meant that when the rent was due at the end of each month, he would drink a bottle of sherry, call an ambulance and be taken into hospital for several days while they stabilised his insulin levels.

During this time a) the rent wasn’t paid and b) I had no way of knowing whether he was dead or alive – under housing law I couldn’t just go in and see if he was OK.

He went on benefits so the rent started coming through in dribs and drabs which was better than nothing, but we started to wonder what – or rather who – we’d got involved with.

He had an unfortunate manner which did nothing to endear himself. On one occasion he told me to “get your hubby to come up with his screwdriver, will you?”

I very nearly told him exactly what to do with his screwdriver but managed to refrain. I was running a business, after all.

Over the next six months, his girlfriend came and went (she spent most of the time in Surrey and went back there full time) and we heard all sorts of allegations about him from his ex-landlady/friend that he’d got the money for his deposit from her mother – who was frail and on a state pension. Whichever way you looked at it, it wasn’t good.

The stories got worse and worse, from various people in Falmouth, and in the end we had to get a court order to get him out. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds, particularly as it happened over Christmas when of course the courts are shut. In essence he was given three months to get out, so we had to put up with him for longer than we would have liked while the council rehomed him.

The last run in with this fellow was when the council Man and Van couldn’t move his stuff on the day he wanted. He came storming down to tell me saying, “You just can’t rely on people.”

I stared at him, open mouthed, astonished that he could be so dense, so unfeeling, so uncaring. But I kept my mouth shut. I was learning the fine art of being a landlady.

We’d also been warned by the housing department not to say anything to antagonise him. It would only be seen as harassment against him: housing law is on the tenant’s side.

Finally he left and we nearly wept with joy and relief. I was able to ring the fellow who’d been wanting to move in for the previous four months – and who’d hung on for all that time – and he and his son came straight round and picked up the key.

He’s the most amazing tenant and he and Himself go to jazz together on Sundays. And it’s his son who came to stay on Saturday night.

On the other hand, I saw the former tenant around town not long ago. He was standing in Boots with his arm around a girl in her twenties, at a guess, who was pushing a buggy. I’d like to think that fatherhood would be the making of him – but who knows?

Wednesday 23 January 2008

A Link

I don't know where this is but the colours are wonderful!

The blurb below looks rather curious because I couldn't copy it from Akelamalu's blog so she copied it into an email for me and I think my technological expertise has proved utterly useless. However -

Start copying here

This link loving in 2008 came from

I hope that you will similarly publish this post in your blog. You will have to tag 5 other bloggers and just keep adding on to the list. (Do not replace, just keep on adding! Yes we hope it will be a long list!)It’s real easy! Tag others and see your Technorati Authority increase exponentially!The benefits of Viral Linking: - One of the fastest ways to see your technorati authority explode! - Increase your Google PageRank fast - Attract large volume of new traffic to your site - Build your community - Make new friends!

Add your blog url here...The Strategist Notebook /Link Addiction/ Ardour of the Heart /When Life Becomes a Book /The Malaysian Life/ What goes under the sun /Roshidan’s Cyber Station /Sasha says /Arts of Physics/ And the legend lives/ My View, My Life /A Simple Life /What Women REALLY Think /Not Much More Than This /Jayedee /Jenn /Beth/ Christie/ Marla /Cailin /Simone /FlipFlopMom Katrina /Gill's Jottings /Work of the Poet/ Wakela/Modern Day Goddess/Livin With MeAre /We There Yet?? /Everything And Nothing/ are next...
Finish copying here

I won't tag people but please take it up if you like and pass it on.

And lastly - a lovely quote I thought:-

A word in a dictionary is very much like a car in a mammoth motorshow --
full of potential, but temporarily inactive.

Anthony Burgess, author. (1917-1993)

Tuesday 22 January 2008

St Trinians

On Sunday we had a rare day to ourselves. We’d had 11 year old James to stay the night on Saturday – he was a delight and is very welcome to stay again – and he left at 9.30 to go to his snooker contest in town.

After we’d walked Mollie on the beach, we had a whole day to ourselves. Elderly James was going out with his daughter for lunch, Himself had decided not to go to jazz, and my Sunday walking partner had her step daughter staying.

We were knackered, so I spent what was left of the morning reading papers, writing magazines and stuff that I should have had time to read in the week and didn’t. Outside it was raining. Again.

I decided it would be good to get out of the house and the choice was Aladdin the panto that one of our dogwalking friends was in (he played Widow Twankee) or a film. As neither of us were feeling in a pantomime mood, I grabbed the paper and ran through the list of what was on. The only thing we could agree on was St Trinians, and I sold that on the basis of Young Girls, Short Skirts. He agreed immediately.

It was a riot. They must have had such fun making it, particularly Rupert Everett who you see up there as Camilla, the headmistress of St Trinians. He based his character on the real Camilla and has done a wonderful job. Camilla turns out to have had an affair at university with the Minister for Education (Colin Firth) whose manic daughter goes to Cheltenham Ladies College. You can guess at the sub plots coming up.

Rupert Everett also plays one of the girl’s fathers, a toffee nosed miser who runs an art gallery for snobs with more money than sense in London. His morals are dubious, as is his sexuality, and Rupert plays the part with an evil enjoyment, poking fun in all corners (pardon the pun).

Also featured are Celia Imrie as the alcoholic matron, Geraldine James as the Cheltenham Ladies College teacher (at least, I think it was her) and Stephen Fry as the quiz master.

Quite what this film is supposed to do for children, other than encourage anarchy, sex, alcoholism and drug taking, I’m not sure. But for adults it was a great bit of escapism. Enjoy.

And apologies to Philipa. I promised a post with no reference to sex. I failed.

Monday 21 January 2008

Pampering at a Price

Years ago a friend gave Himself a voucher for an Indian Head Massage for his birthday.

“I went in there to have a haircut and they gave me one of these as well,” he said. “I tell you, it’s better than sex.”

Coming from this particular man, that was saying something. But Himself, being of a suspicious nature when it comes to things alternative, declined the voucher. I don’t know what he thought an Indian Head Massage might do to him (scalp him?) but he viewed it with a mixture of fear and horror.

This year for Christmas Himself gave me a voucher at one of the hotels in Falmouth that has a health spa. Having looked at the brochure I realised that the voucher wasn’t going to cover the price of the cheapest ministration, but I kept quiet about that and booked myself in for an Indian Head Massage. It wasn’t till later that I remembered that endorsement, honest.

So on Saturday I went along. I was knackered and the thought of being pampered was like a dream come true.

Walking into this spa was like entering the health pages of a glossy magazine. Piped music floated forth from invisible speakers, tea lights danced in the soft light, and smells of sandalwood, peppermint, thyme and lavender mingled in the warm air.

I waited, propped on plump pillows, while Anne finished off her previous patient (not her words) and thought how nice it was to do nothing for once.

Then the door to the spa burst open and a young fellow dressed it sports kit (with very muscular legs) strode in followed by two giggling beauty therapists, all carrying a plateful of hot food. The pungent smell of gravy and roast potatoes wafted over in my direction and my stomach gave a large gurgle. Was I going to be fed as well?

Unfortunately the food wasn’t part of my treatment, and the three young ‘uns disappeared into some back room like the witches of Eastwick carrying their mouthwatering plates with them.

Just after that Anne appeared and took me through, and for the next half an hour my shoulders, back and neck were de-stressed. She massaged them with an aromatherapy oil that made me feel almost drugged I was so relaxed. Then she started no the head massage and – well, if you like having your head massaged at the hairdresser, you’ll love this. I could feel every ounce of tension being rung out of me. Wonderful and quite dizzymaking – in the nicest possible way.

Afterwards I was told to get dressed and lie down in the relaxation room where there were the equivalent of sun loungers, water (hot and cold), herbal teas and an abundant supply of magazines.

Heaven. I did say to Himself afterwards that this place was pampering at a price.

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘You’re not going to be pampered in a bus shelter, are you?’

He has a point. So if ever you feel like being pampered, go for an Indian Head Massage. I can see what our friend meant. Almost.

Friday 18 January 2008

Bad news and scavenging

The bad news is that the agent has turned my novel down. He just "didn't love it enough to take it what is a very crowded marketplace." However he did have a suggestion that could be useful and he did say that he liked the characters and plot. So that's progress of a kind.

But it's still a bummer. I will send it out again, of course. Rejection is part of the game and I wish it got easier. It doesn’t. Each rejection still hurts just as much, but I skim a layer of anti-hurt cream on now. I’m not sure that it does much good, but I can kid myself. Who knows, I might be able to market it and make a fortune?

The good news is that we’re becoming professional scavengers now, always on the lookout for burnable wood.

On the beach the other day, my friend Sue and I walked our dogs in a howling gale and scoured the beach for driftwood. I found one piece – the rest was wet, knobbly seaweed, slimy and a curious dark green/brown colour.

As we walked back to our cars, we noticed a skip outside the café which is being renovated. ‘Look!’ said Sue. The skip was piled with wood that had been ripped out of the decking.

So we scurried off, got two large plastic bags and filled them up. The wood’s soaking, of course, we’ve had so much rain, but it can dry out in the garage.

Himself was so pleased that when we went down there this morning to walk Moll, he asked the foreman of the job if he could bring a trailer down to pick up the rest of the wood. The foreman said that was fine, to come down within the hour.

The next difficulty was getting Barrie organised (he’s the one with the trailer.) Barrie rang at about ten last night, fresh from the pub, saying he’d be happy to offer his trailer for the wood if Himself would repair a goat leg table.

I’ve never come across such a thing, and neither had Himself, but given that Barrie had probably been in the pub since six, neither of us worried too much about that.

By some miracle this morning Barrie was not only up but remembered the gist of the conversation last night, so the two men have gone off on a serious scavenge.

We had to get some more coal as well and stocked up this morning after walking the dog. As we’ve got some cheap stuff that doesn’t burn well, I suggested we get some decent stuff that will last longer.

‘This is what they recommend,’ said Himself when we met in the coal department. ‘It’s Welsh.’

I looked down and there, in large letters, was written,

What more could a girl ask for?

Thursday 17 January 2008

The Young Lovers

To continue with the tenants.

I was surrogate Mum to the next lot - she was 16 and he was 19 and they were so desperately in love you’d have thought they’d invented it.

She was very cuddly, worked in the local greengrocer’s shop and gave me wonderful discounts. He was a stick thin gardener who needed feeding up.

Unfortunately she had absolutely no idea how to cook and would often pop downstairs to borrow a cake tin (the cake was a disaster), recipes etc and ask for advice on – well, just about anything.

I think he took over the cooking in the end, out of self defence, and when he came back from work they’d sit down to Fray Bentos pies, or Tesco value pies when things got worse. (I had to go and fix the cooker in the midst of several of their meals as it kept shorting.)

I’ll never forget their first Christmas – she asked me to come up and see their tree, that she’d bought in November, and was already lovingly decorated. For some reason it was in their bedroom, which was covered in teddy bears, all over the floor. That struck me as particularly poignant. The Child Lover.

Unfortunately, like the Christmas tree, this love peaked too early and she decided she’d had enough and went back to live with Mum. Her real one, that is. He stayed on for a few months, alone and resigned, before moving away because he’d been accepted into the army.

The place was a pigsty when he left. It took me three days just to clean the cooker. After that there were five trips to the dump and the entire flat needed not just cleaning but repainting. That was a long week.

I see her in town every now and then. She became pregnant by someone else at the matronly age of 18 and now has lost a lot of weight, looks stunning, and has a gorgeous little blonde daughter. She is manager of Burger King and the new bloke looks OK too. We haven’t seen the original boyfriend but apparently he’s around somewhere. So things didn’t work out badly for them.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

The Wonderful Stove

As you will see, here are some pictures of The Fire taken at a rather peculiar angle - so you'll have to use your imagination. The bottom one is Mike burying the remains of Himself in the wall. New year? New man......

The mantel shelf on top was made by Himself and painted accordingly. He chose the pictures to hang up (us aboard the boat he was living on when we met) and put the teapots and clock on the shelf.

After all that, my mother isn’t coming to spend the night but at least it got the jobs done…

Last week I read of Oscar, a dog who was so devoted to his mate Arthur the cat, that he dug up his grave and brought the body back to the house.

When Oscar’s owners woke up the following morning, they discovered the dog curled up in his bed with the late Arthur beside him. The owners said that the dog and cat were close and constant companions and Oscar, an 18 month old Lancashire Heeler, had watched them dig a grave in the garden and lower Arthur into it. They believe that Oscar climbed out of the cat flap in the night, dug up the body and pulled him back into the house. As Arthur’s coat was gleaming white the next morning, Oscar must have licked him clean.

I’m glad to say that Arthur is now reburied in a secure grave and Oscar has a new companion. A kitten called Limpet.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Getting There - a guide to agility

The process of getting published is like an agility class to see how super fit we
would-be novelists really are.

As you may or may not know, an agility course consists of hoops, tunnels, gates, seasaws and tyres that have to be jumped over or through.

Last week, despite being knee deep in rejections for the last novel, I wrote to yet another agent on my list. Without any hopes. I got an email back saying would I please send the first three chapters. A small jump.

I sent the chapters off, laughing a little at his name. Ian Drury. Is he any relation of the Ian of Blockheads fame, I wondered? Son, perhaps? Turned his back on the music business to enter the highly competitive world of publishing. (You can see another novel developing pronto.)

The seasaw tilted as I considered the possibilities, and then I forgot about Ian’s email. I knew what would happen. He would send back a polite “Thanks but No thanks” note. Or nothing at all.

This is the tunnel that in our agility class has a wet pool in the bottom because it’s rained so much.

I’m well used to no replies by now. Not that agents or editors are rude – she says hurriedly. They’re extremely busy. I’ve had jobs like that, when your Inbox is so bursting with emails you can’t think let alone reply to any but the most urgent.

Another long dark tunnel with a twist in. One collie loves the tunnel, but I don’t. But it has to be got through. It’s part of the course.

We had a writing meeting on Sunday and five of us sat round a table and discussed my latest rejection and where I might be going wrong. We came up with a plan for me to rewrite the first three chapters of this last novel. A jump over a succession of smaller jumps, then a leap through the tyre.

Rather than doing it straight away, like I usually do, I thought, no wait. Let this simmer. Think about it. So I sat on it, made myself wait. Run round the field a few times, looking at the competition. Or in Mollie’s case, the sheep in the next field.

Yesterday afternoon I checked my emails to find one from Ian asking me to send him the rest of the manuscript. This was my first proper Big Jump.

I jumped up, ran next door to tell Himself, and immediately rang my closest writing friend. She was out, so I ran round in circles squeaking, like a demented mouse, before sitting down and sending him the rest of the manuscript. Another jump for good measure. Several more for the hell of it.

I have no doubt that Ian will reply at some point – there’s a lot to read, so he won’t be in a hurry. He will explain why he doesn’t think it will sell and therefore why they don’t want it and wish me better luck elsewhere. But his comments might help. I might be able to rewrite it so that someone else might take it.

Or ……… but we won’t go there. That would be tempting fate. Realistically, a clear round is still a long way off. But I’m getting there.

So for all you other Novel Racers and writers out there. We’ll get there – one day. Just keep jumping.

Monday 14 January 2008

The First Fire

We had our first fire on Saturday night.

We were intending to go out and celebrate, but instead we stared at the fire in wonder. Never mind that it was a warm evening: our flat hasn’t warmed up since last winter, so we gazed at the fire like proud parents and hugged each other with joy.

I will take a picture when things calm down so you can see it in all its full glory.

Later that evening we felt we should ring my mother as she’s paying for it, dear of her. By this time Himself had consumed a fair bit of wine and was full of liquid bonhomie.

When he heard that she was intending to come down on Thursday to see an exhibition at Truro Museum, he grabbed the phone and said, “But you must come and stay the night, Penny.”

She was delighted and said that would be lovely.

It wasn’t until the next morning, in the cruel and sober daylight that he realised he’s got a lot to do in the living room to make the shelf he’s intending to cover what had been the large hole in the chimney breast.

So he rushed off in a panic to buy timber, came back and made the framework (which looks rather splendid, or will do when it’s finished) and departed to go to listen to the jazz. In his wake, the living room was covered in sawdust, with the workbench up, several saws, his toolbox and endless screws and drills covering every available surface.

I waited until he came home to say that I hadn’t liked to touch anything because I presumed he was in the middle of things. I’m not sure that he caught the irony.

What it is to live with a creative genius. But later, I heard the hum of the hoover, and Mollie’s answering bark.

What it is to live with a creative genius who can hoover.

Friday 11 January 2008

The Landlady

I am a landlady by default. It happened like this. When I met Himself, he lived on a fishing boat and I lived in a cottage in Devon. When we realised that we were going to make this a permanent arrangement we rented a bungalow in Falmouth and I let the cottage. Just in case things didn’t work out. (My late grandmother once said to me, “darling, always have a bolthole”.

Two years on I sold the cottage (at a profit) and bought the flat we live in now which was a wreck. Nothing had been done since the 1950s when the former occupant had moved in, so you can imagine what it was like.

We gutted it and did it up ourselves (hard work but meant we saved money and could do things as we wanted) and then the upstairs flat came on the market. Himself suggested to my mother that it would be a good investment for her, so she bought it and as it was let to holidaymakers, I ran that side of it for her.

When the top flat came up for sale Himself persuaded me to buy that, so I did.

When I took over the flats, they were both let as holiday lets – the business came with the sale. So I took all the bookings and did all the administration. I was then working full time and doing changeovers at the weekends. This meant that every Saturday was spent cleaning and washing, hoping to god that it wouldn’t rain so I could dry the bedding outside – we don’t have a tumble dryer and the nearest launderette is some way away. By Sunday I was knackered, but we could never go away at weekends because of the business.

After that first summer I decided to let to long term tenants so I advertised in the local paper and got no one. I panicked. A week later our first tenant turned up, courtesy of an ad in our local Tesco.

He was in his twenties, very bright and charming and worked for one of the big hotels in Falmouth. He was dyslexic (I’ve kept all his notes which still bring a lump to my throat) and painted the flat very strange colours with what seemed to be indelible paint. (After he left it took weeks to restore the flat to some semblance of normality, or at least something that I could let again.) Lesson Number One – don’t let tenants paint the place unless they agree to restore it to the original colour before they leave. And if they’re not good at painting, make sure they pay for someone to do it properly.

I’ll never forget one of his referees was the receptionist at the hotel he worked at. Where it says Occupation, she wrote, “Receptionist. Good one.” (That still brings a smile to my face.)

I often wondered what happened to him. He was ambitious and evidently good at his job and he went off to work for one of the big London hotels. Last heard, he was desperately trying to find any accommodation he could afford: one week’s rent there was the same as a month’s rent here.

But I’m sure he will have done well. And who knows, if we won the lottery one day, we might be in a London hotel and there he would be. I’d like that.

Thursday 10 January 2008

The joys of youth

In amongst this somewhat hectic week I’ve at least managed to catch up with a few friends. On Tuesday I hurtled into town to meet one mate in our local café, the Clipper, run by a couple who moved down from London and bought the place with no formal catering experience. She was a TV producer for an ad agency; he designed the intranet for DWP.

It’s a tiny café, with only three tables, so being able to get a seat is often a problem as it’s so popular. Regular customers include students, local shop owners, OAPs, lecturers, tourists, families with small children, people with dogs – in short, everyone.

When I got there Nik had managed to grab a seat and ordered me a coffee (I can never drink things hot), and we ordered our food and sat waiting. They were very busy and I’d already been salivating all morning as I’d interviewed the owners the evening before and had spent the morning writing up the piece that included their best selling favourites.

These included roasted vegetables with chorizo, ditto with houmous, bacon sarnies, home made soup, home made cakes, home made burgers with onion marmalade – and so on. Hungry yet?

Anyway, we sat there while my sugar level dipped, swooped and plummeted. This was when conversation became stilted. I’m unable to focus, let alone think when blood sugar level gets that bad. Then I noticed a young couple opposite engaged in a tongue swallowing contest.

They must have been in their early twenties and not just joined at the hip but at the tongue. Conversation was nil, obviously, as their mouths were otherwise engaged. Now I’m no prude but this was – well, it nearly put me off my food. Never have I seen such animated effort.

When their food did arrive (two huge sarnies on ciabatta), they actually stopped to refuel and ate in near silence. Just the odd whisper in between steady munching. Then it was back to the serious business.

I hope their tongues survive. Just imagine, in years to come, going to the doctor and complaining of a sore mouth.

“Well,” he might say. “It looks like you’ve done some serious damage here. Overly stretched tongue. It won’t shrink back you know.”

Oh for the joys of youth.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Chimney Part Two

The living room now has a large hole in the chimney breast.

It gapes like an jagged mouth, revealing the orange tongue of the chimney liner covered in duct tape. Everything is covered in a thick layer of brown filth. It stinks of old coal dust and grime.

But the liner’s in, which is the main thing. And no one was killed, maimed or even injured.

Himself could hardly move he was so tired last night, so I made his grub and I went out to rehearsals for Pajama Game, so was able to escape the building site. It was one of those evenings when I was convinced that not only do I have two left feet, but I couldn’t remember the notes either. And as I don’t read music, that doesn’t help. Still, it got me out of the house.

I’ve just discovered that Himself has been cutting aluminium in the kitchen. On the chopping boards. Despair is not a word that I use lightly.

I’m not sure what he’s carving it up for - something to do with the huge amount of work that now has to be done in the living room to repair the hole in the wall, fix the chimney liner to the stove, make a new hearth – and whatever else needs doing. It’s better not to ask, believe me.

Mike’s coming back today and the work should be finished in a couple of days. Well, say the end of the week.

By which time the multi fuel stove will be in service.

The reasoning behind this upheaval is that when the easterly wind blows, our flat is freezing, and that’s with the heating on. So, what with gas prices rising, we felt an alternative or additional form of heating was a good idea.

Actually it was my mother’s idea, in self defence, when she stayed one weekend and was freezing. She is funding this project, bless her, which is forming my next 600 birthday and Christmas presents.

By the weekend we hope everything will be in place. And you can guarantee that we will have the warmest winter on record.

But the best bit of news for our friends next door is that they won’t be smoked out whenever we light the fire. RT you can celebrate – come and share the fire!

Tuesday 8 January 2008

The Chimney Liner

Chaos here.

The front room is covered in sheets and blue tarpaulin, with parts of a wood burning stove on the floor.
Our friend Mike is at the top of the chimney clinging onto a ladder, trying to drop a chimney liner down, while Himself is at the bottom, inside, trying to pull the thing down. It's hard work and dust and rubble is tumbling down the chimney. The worry is whether the very old chimney will be clear enough for the liner to go down. I can only hope so.

Gale force winds are forecast for this afternoon – and rain – and Mike is a tiny fellow. I’m hoping he won’t get blown away. In fact, I’m trying not to think about what they’re doing at all.

When I went into the kitchen earlier the two men were having a Conflab about whether to risk the weather - the forecast for the rest of the week is lousy. Mollie was looking at her most cute, sitting on Mike’s lap. The Helper, evidently.

Me? I’m trying to type up an interview I did last night with a café owner, amidst cries of “Pop! Can you help?”

I rush outside to grab a cable dangling down the wall, feed it through the catflap and plug it on so they have power up there.

Moll rushes up and down the corridor with me, looking very Anxious.

I go back to the computer, type up some interview. Next door, something rushes down the chimney. I only hope it’s not Mike.

“Pop!” From next door. Back I go. At least I can hear two voices so no one has fallen off the roof. Yet.

I have a feeling this is going to be a Long Day. And as for me trying to get any work done? Tricky.

Monday 7 January 2008

Introducing the Animals

Buster came at exactly this time of year – well, the second week in January to be precise. My darling black cat Cyd (named after Cyd Charisse for her beautiful legs) had to be put down at the age of 19. She’d had a good life and used up all of her nine lives plus a few more. But old age crept up and when her kidneys went that was it. I can’t bear to see an animal in pain.

There followed a terrible week of no cat. Then the receptionist at work rang me and said, “I’ve found two kittens at the vet in Tuckingmill. One tabby and one black and white. I want the tabby.”

So we took our lunch hour at 10 am and headed over to Tuckingmill. The two kittens had been abandoned over Christmas and spoilt rotten by the staff at the vet’s, who were glad to see them go to a good home. We piled them into a cardboard box and I sat with it on my lap while we drove home.

We couldn’t take two 14 week kittens to an office, so we went via the workshop, where Himself was busy at work. (He made jewellery in those days.) I opened the box and out burst the black and white kitten, launched himself at Himself’s jumper, and clung on.

“That’s it!” I said. “We’ll call him Buster!”

Mollie appeared after much consultation with various doggie friends. Himself had been depressed for a long while, wouldn’t go out and see people, hated his work, was in a real state. I figured that we could give a dog a good home – I would provide the walks and cuddles, and it might help give Himself a lift.

He was very anti, of course, and refused to take part in my investigations. I’d wanted a rescue dog but because of Bussie we were advised that a puppy would be better for Bussie, so he could boss it around and still be top cat.

So when I dragged Himself off to see a litter that belonged to some gypsies nearby, Himself wasn’t too keen. That lot was discarded, and the next week we set off to see another litter, not far from the previous week’s gypsies.

We got there and found two tiny white and black long haired puppies in a loose box. Himself picked one up and looked at me with shining eyes.

“If you still really want to get a dog, we should get this one,” he said.

A month later, Himself was a changed man. He had lost nearly a stone and proudly showed his daughter off to everyone saying, "she's very bright you know."

She has completely changed our lives, and I don't know what we'd do without either of them.

Apologies for change in typeface - not sure what happened there.

Friday 4 January 2008

Film Review

Last night I went to see The Golden Compass and was spellbound for all of the 2 hours. (That included three dashes to the loo because I couldn't stand the tension.)

As a piece of cinematography it was brilliant. The computer generated images – of which there were many – were amazing. How much better can they get? And what I found interesting was hearing that the acting had been done with the daemons by mime – the animals were added later.

It’s about six years since I read the book so my memory is hazy but the book is much more complex than the film, which rushes through the content with Hollywood style speed. Lyra was more confident and grown up than I’d imagined her to be as a 13 year old, but good none the less, and Nicole K as Mrs Coulter was icily believable. (Ws she wearing blue contact lenses? It looked like it.) As for Daniel Craig – well, need I say more?

I was on the edge of my seat all the way through, and so full of adrenaline when I got out that it was hours before I could sleep. But it was worth it, and I strongly recommend the film. A visual feast.

But as an animal lover, what I loved was the dramatisation of the daemons. Every room was crowded with animals reflecting the humans' characters, which made the film all the more fascinating. And Lyra’s daemon was cuddly, caring and brave.

If you want to check out your daemon go to The Golden Compass

And click on daemons. Mine's a tiger.

It made me think of our relationships with our pets and how close we become to them. And as I watched the film, I realised with astonishing clarity that Mollie is my perfect, essential daemon - or rather, she reflects certain aspects of my character and the others are assets that I wish I could have. (Oh, and she’s a girl and according to Philip P rules she should be a boy). She’s feisty, cuddly, stroppy, loyal, loving, competitive and brave.

I told Himself about this lightbulb moment when I got into bed.

‘Of course,’ he said sleepily and turned over. ‘That’s why I chose her.’

Readers, I hit him.

Thursday 3 January 2008

My New Love

Some time over Christmas I decided that what I really wanted was a duffel coat.

I can’t remember how this came about – I must have seen someone wearing one in the bitter cold and thinking, ‘that would be good for dogwalking’.

Not only would it be long and snuggly and warm, but I could wear layers underneath it, it would keep out the wind and the wet and – this is of utmost importance as a dogwalker – it would have big pockets.

Big pockets are essential for us dog owners. When out walking I need poo bags, dog biscuits, hankies (this weather makes my nose run), keys (house and car on one ring) and if I remember, phone. If I’m really organised I might have paper and pen in case I think of something pertinent to what I’m writing (I usually do when out walking and if I wait till I get back to the car I inevitably forget) and a few business cards. Just in case I happen to bump into someone who might be looking for a passing writer. You never know.

But back to the duffel coat. This idea grew over Christmas until by the day after Boxing Day I decided to tackle the sales in Truro.

Not unusual you may think. Wrong. I never shop unless I really have to and I have never been to the post Christmas sales. Never.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I set off, accompanied by a bemused mother who doesn’t like shopping either but was lured by the promise of Waterstones.

To my surprise we managed to park in Tesco car park at 9.30. By 10 I had had enough. We’d scoured the only shops that might have a duffel coat only to find either they didn’t have any, or if they did, they were a size 22.

As we were by this time in Marks and Spencer, surrounded by millions of people searching racks of hideous clothes, I suggested we went to the café. There I queued for 20 minutes for two coffees. I think you can probably guess how I was feeling by this time.

We then went to Waterstones and spent a happy half hour browsing books and returned home with 3 for 2. But no coat.

The next day Mum left and I set off into town that afternoon to replenish food supplies. Walking through town, I called into an old fashioned clothing shop and found a gents duffel coat (no women’s) which came down to my feet almost. It was beautiful wool, German made. Cost £175. I blanched and hurried out.

Then I passed the Hospice charity shop and popped in. A friend was working there, so we had a chat and I felt duty bound to have a look.

There on the coat rack was a green duffel coat with yellow wooden toggles. It almost had Flowerpot written all over it. Admittedly it was a size 12 and I’m an 8 or 10, but I reasoned I’d probably be wearing layers underneath it anyway. I tried it on. It wasn’t that big. I bought it.
It cost me £8.

And since then I have worn it every time I go out. It feels just right. I don’t care what it looks like – it feels wonderfully snuggly, and I can wear a fleece underneath if it’s really cold.

And of course, it has great big pockets. Because you never know what you may need. Or who you might meet.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

The cornet box

As you can see, the cornet box that Himself was making over the last week is finally finished and looks wonderful. He has textured it so it doesn’t look new, spent ages fitting the upholstery – with polystyrene and foam padding – and used the fittings off the old box to fit onto the new, including the Boosey name tag which is now sitting proudly on top.

Altogether a job to be proud of. It looks so good that I suggested he should take up making boxes full time. This suggestion was not met with the enthusiasm I felt it deserved.

The other night the phone rang and a German voice asked to speak to Himself. It turned out to be the fellow that he sold the (last) cornet to.

I watched Himself’s face as he chatted and smiled, then silence. I heard the cornet being played down the phone. His old cornet. I smiled.

When the music stopped, Himself said to the German, ‘That was wonderful. So you’re pleased? Good.’ Pause. ‘No it hasn’t arrived yet.’ Pause. ‘I’ll let you know when it does.’

My hackles went up. ‘What hasn’t arrived yet?’ I said, when he put the phone down. I could sniff another cornet disaster.

Himself looked up, his mind evidently on jazz. ‘He’s sending me a tape, Pop. This fellow plays in seven different bands and he’s sending me a tape of his band playing.’ He grinned, looking aged about six. ‘The cornet’s just arrived, and he’s delighted.’

So while Himself might not have made any money on the deal, it looks like he’s made a new friend.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

New Year's Greetings

This is a picture of Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, as requested by the Rotten Correspondent. Though I would hasten to add that we walk around this castle's large moat every morning, not the castle itself, which is owned by English Heritage and so you need to pay to go in.

January the First is traditionally the time for News Review of the Year, a programme I worked on in my television days. It was fun compiling an hour long programme of the disasters of the past year, the howlingly funny sound bites, the moments of achievement. We made it in early December, of course, as tapes and scripts had to be sent round the world by courier in those days. I would crouch in the newsroom, trying to send pages and pages of script by the temperamental fax, sworn at by the editor of the day desperate to use the machine for some far more urgent business. Oh happy days.

But it strikes me that the new year should surely be a time of looking forward. If your hangover permits, that is. Our upstairs neighbours got in at 4.30 this morning so you can guess what they’re going to be feeling like today.

I haven’t made any new year’s resolutions, but I have goals, and they are mostly to do with work. That is, make more money out of my writing. Journalism and fiction. These are not just professional aspirations but part of a plan that involves looking after a husband who, like many of my friends, has next to no pension and can’t afford to give up work. No that there is much at the moment anyway.

The long term financial future is not one that I care to look at too closely.

So that’s my goal for this year. I would also take a leaf out of our friend John’s book and adopt his maxim for life – to go my own way but help others when I can. That sounds fearfully priggish but there is a selfish motive to this – it makes me feel a whole lot better. Cheering someone up, or taking a cat to a vet doesn’t take a huge amount of time or money. But it’s worth it when you see that smile.

So here’s hoping that 2008 brings us all health, wealth and happiness. Most of us can survive without the wealth, but the other two are vital.